Thursday, April 14, 2011

Praying for Strangers

In April 2010 my friend River Jordan (who, among other reasons I like her, has been known to support me in occasional “Star Trek” slap-fights on Twitter), sent me and others on her mailing list an odd request: “Would you care to join me in praying for a stranger every day for 30 days?”

It was an intriguing concept that grew out of her New Year’s resolution for 2009, she said. Facing the inevitability of her two sons deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan as the year began, River realized that she was praying selfishly for their safety. Instead, she resolved to pray daily for strangers.

She never intended to tell the strangers about her prayers, she said.

“But then something happened a few weeks into the year where I met a woman in a bus stop and felt I should tell her she was my special stranger that day,” River said in her letter. “Her amazing response is what led me to telling others.”

And although she’s a writer, she never intended to write a book about the experience. But her prayers opened her eyes to the personal stories of the strangers who crossed her path — and her husband, Owen, kept telling her she needed to be writing these stories down. Their stories became part of her story. The result is a memoir, “Praying for Strangers: An Adventure of the Human Spirit” (Berkely Books, $24.95, 336 pages, ISBN 0425239640). It’s a quick read, with tales doled out in short, thought-provoking and inspirational chapters.

River, who grew up in Bay County, now lives in Nashville with Owen and their dog Titan. She is the author of novels “The Gin Girl,” “The Messenger of Magnolia Street,” “Saints in Limbo” and “The Miracle of Mercy Land.” She teaches and speaks around the country on “The Power of Story,” and produces and hosts “Clearstory Radio” on WRFN 107.1FM in Nashville.

“Praying for Strangers” is about how reaching out to people she had never met allowed River to examine forces at play in her own life, her heart and her motivations. What she discovered was life changing. She had planned to let the resolution die when the year ended, but it has demanded more of her.

More than a year later, she continues praying for strangers.

“This is not a conversion prayer, or a testimony time,” she explained. “It’s simply a beautiful way to connect with another human being on a personal, spiritual level. No one has ever been upset with me or called store security for me pausing and telling them that they stood out to me in a special way and that I was wishing them blessings and prayers for their good year.”


(This was my Sunday "Undercurrents" column for The News Herald.)
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